Together again: CBS, Viacom complete multi-billion dollar merger

Some of the assets owned by the newly-formed ViacomCBS. (Photo: Handout)

Viacom and CBS Corporation have reunified as part of a $28 billion merger that will see the combined company spend upwards of $13 billion on entertainment content annually.

The merger, completed this week, will bring a portfolio of broadcast channels, cable networks and streaming platforms — including CBS, Showtime, the Smithsonian Channel, Pop TV, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, VH1, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Paramount Network, CMT, the Movie Channel and others — under one roof.

The combined company will be called ViacomCBS for the foreseeable future and will account for more than one-fifth of television viewership across the country.

“Through the combination of CBS’s and Viacom’s complementary assets, capabilities and talented teams, ViacomCBS will create and deliver premium content for its own platforms and for others, while providing innovative solutions for advertisers and distributors globally,” ViacomCBS Chief Executive Officer Bob Bakish said in a statement released to reporters on Thursday.

CBS and Viacom first merged in 1999 only to split apart seven years later. Viacom, larger of the two entities, believed the future of television watching was on traditional pay platforms, including cable and satellite.

But CBS emerged as the long-term victor with a move toward streaming early on: the broadcaster launched CBS All Access and an online standalone variant of its Showtime premium network at a time when streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime were just starting to take off.

The gamble worked: As cable television viewership declined, CBS harnessed the trend of “cord-cutting” as well as its portfolio of streaming applications and sports programming — mainly retransmission rights for National Football League games — to demand higher retransmission fees from the very traditional platforms that were bleeding customers.

Viacom, on the other hand, fought a hard battle to retain young viewers who were ditching traditional cable and satellite platforms for online options. It made some headway earlier this year by purchasing Pluto TV, a free, ad-supported streaming service based in California that now serves up older shows from Viacom’s library of content.

The merger between Viacom and CBS is the latest joining of forces between media enterprises to help keep Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services at bay.

In addition to the broadcast network, cable networks and streaming platforms, the combined company will include nearly two dozen CBS stations across the United States; global variants of MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon; international channels Viva, Colors, Channel 5 UK and Game One; and Australia’s Network Ten, which CBS purchased through a Norwegian holding company for $123 million in 2017.

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